New research suggests that xenon gas has the potential to be used for treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.
Humans generally have their own adaptive physiological response to stress called as the 'fight or flight' response. Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD occurs in some cases when people are exposed to an extreme stress trigger or a very stressful event such as criminal assault, natural disasters, serious accident etc. People living with PTSD typically have periodic flashbacks or nightmares of the triggering event. Generally, psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers are used to treat PTSD.
AdvertisementXenon, which is an odorless, nontoxic and environmentally friendly gas, has been studied for many years for its anaesthetic properties. Xenon is a noble or inert gas which induces anesthesia by blocking NMDA receptors in the brain which are known to be associated with memory function.
Recent studies conducted with xenon shows this gas is now capable of making you forget your painful memories or fearful recollections. The authors, Edward G Meloni and Marc J Kaufman, conducted the study to see whether a low concentration of xenon gas could interfere with a process called reconsolidation - a state in which reactivated memories become susceptible to modification.
Marc Kaufman, associate professor of psychiatry from the Harvard Medical School and director of the Translational Imaging Laboratory at McLean hospital commented "The fact that we were able to inhibit remembering of a traumatic memory with xenon is very promising because it is currently used in humans for other purposes, and thus it could be re-purposed to treat PTSD."
For the study, the scientists used mice which were trained to be afraid of sounds that were paired with painful electrical shocks to their feet. Reactivating the fearful memory was done by exposing the mice to those same cues and then measuring their freezing response. It was found that the mice exposed to xenon gas froze for fewer times in response to the sound as compared to the mice which were not exposed to xenon.
Edward Meloni, assistant psychologist at McLean and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said "We know from previous research that each time an emotional memory is recalled, the brain actually re-stores it as if it were a new memory. With this knowledge, we decided to see whether we could alter the process by introducing xenon gas immediately after a fear memory was reactivated."
He further added "The investigators found that a single hour-long dose of xenon was enough to reduce rats' fear responses and the effects remained for up to two weeks. Unlike other drugs or medications that may also block NMDA receptors involved in memory, xenon gets in and out of the brain very quickly."
The findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The authors Meloni and Kaufman concluded that if future research shows that xenon has the same effects on people's fearful memories, it could potentially be used to treat people with PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
• Recurrent or continuous painful memories of the tragic event
• Periodic flashbacks of the traumatic event and reliving those moments over and over again
• Feeling frightened, sad, anxious and disconnected from the world at all times
• Having disturbed sleep due to nightmares of the traumatic event
• Physical reactions or outbursts to something that reminds you of the event
• Trying to avoid places or people that remind you of the traumatic event
• Having scornful or negative feelings about yourself or other people
• Lack of interest in activities which you previously enjoyed and life in general
• Feeling of depression and hopelessness
• Aggressive behavior or being angry or irritable for no reason
• Having guilt, shame and blaming self for the event
It's only natural for any one of us to want to avoid painful memories, flashbacks, nightmares and other physiological reactions associated with PTSD. Till a treatment that alleviates the impact of those painful memories is established, it is important to seek medical advice sooner rather than later.